Statement on the murder of George Floyd

 

The Sociology programme team at Canterbury Christ Church University condemn the brutal, racist murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on the 25th May, 2020, and the violent response from government authorities in the US and UK.

We stand in solidarity with the groups, individuals, and communities who have for decades endured not only direct, explicit racism, but multiple levels of racial oppression across gender, class and religion. We stand in solidarity with all members of our learning community – students and staff alike – whose lives have been impacted by racism. We know that these anti-black racisms as they manifest in brutal policing practices are connected to deep histories of colonial and imperial power, and are part of a wider picture of racism and racial inequalities. Unequal treatment and access to housing, health care, education, citizenship, policing, and political representation has led to severe socio-economic, social and psychological damage that cannot be repaired in one sitting, one march, nor one statement. George Floyd’s death is a catalyst for change. But it is also only one episode in a long and ignoble history of countless incidents of institutionally enabled oppression, maltreatment, violence and murder.

As such, condemnation of George Floyd’s killing is not sufficient on its own. Condemning a murder is NOT the same as condemning the cause of the murder, the bodies that stand on either side of the murder, and the entire system that allowed and even encouraged the murder to take place. We condemn not only the act, but the systematic, inter-related web of destructive, social, political and economic systems that kill, maim and harm countless racialized populations in the US, UK, and around the world. We affirm that black lives matter, and stand in solidarity with all those who campaign against racism in the UK and across the world.

As Sociologists, we must ask serious questions about how we can stand in alliance with the change mechanisms that may facilitate a social justice framed world. We have a disciplinary duty and responsibility to engage in teaching that breaks the boundaries of race, class and gender, and to pro-actively work to disrupt the kinds of thinking that ultimately lead to acts of oppression. Sociology has not always been successful in this objective.

Even as the world reels from a global, deadly pandemic, a highly racialized picture of inequalities has emerged, as more Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people have died from COVID-19, and suffer disproportionate levels of infection. And this is true around the world. We cannot isolate one racist violent act from all the other inter-related complexities of this unequal world. The institutional racism that runs through US policing, also runs deep within the British policing system, supported by culturally racist discrimination and economic and political marginalisation. These systemic problems pervade every aspect of society – the society that Sociology promised to study. And yet in so many cases, and for so long, it has failed to do so.

In every sociology curriculum, at all levels throughout the UK education system, students learn about a variety of intersecting social, cultural and economic inequalities, all underwritten by social theories seeking to explain the complexity of society. But we must question, when there is so much racism in the world, across nation states and within, affecting millions of people, whether Sociology has risen to this challenge? We need to ask serious questions and create a space for honesty and humility. So how can Sociology, as a discipline and an institution, reflect the very society it is deeply embedded within? First, it is imperative that we have a frank reckoning of Sociology’s shortcomings and its role in perpetuating division, and second, that we change the face of Sociology. For it is only when we are able to honestly engage with our role in a society riven with these racial inequalities, that we can begin to become allies to the on-going project of liberation. We must listen, we must hear, we must act.

Together, we will move beyond condemnation of racism and racial inequalities, and seek to use the criticality of a changing, adaptational sociology to mobilise an understanding that contributes to building a better world for every individual, group and community.  We will seek to be allies and support the resistance against racism in ways that mobilise our skills, but which do not unintentionally reproduce the very problems we are trying to address. This will mean making mistakes, and learning from each other, with humility, and compassion.  This is the sociology that we strive to practise.

The Sociology Team

George Floyd, Racial Terror and ‘Alliances’

Dr Harshad Keval 

To breathe

George Floyd was brutally murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the 25th May, 2020. An assassination that was captured on video, and circulated around the world in a matter of seconds. For 9 minutes, the police officer Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck and back, whilst George Floyd cried out for air, pleading to breathe, to live, for mercy. He was arrested for allegedly having a counterfeit 20 dollar bill. Several other police officers stood and watched him die. As I write, cities around the world are exploding with the rage, anger, hurt and pain that comes from the accumulation of centuries of racial trauma.

The structural, capitalism fuelled racialised architecture of white supremacy as manifested in generations of political malevolence, are all focused through one incident as it hurls its way through billions of digital screens, and through the lives and bodies of people who simply will not, cannot, stand by. 

This one, brutal, violent death comes to symbolise, in graphic form, millions of deaths at the hands of those with power. In this and many cases, it is police power.

And yet, the power relations that have always had one knee on the neck of racialised, oppressed populations, are not limited to police and judicial systems throughout the globe.

These power relations occupy the unseen spaces in between the clear manifestations of social structure. They occupy the everyday to-ings and fro-ings of urban life, of institutional processes, of labour force operations, of employment structures, of hopes, dreams and aspirations of black and ethnic minority children and their parents as they dare to behold better, safer futures in a racial world of constant obstacles and burdens.

And of torment and terror.

The knee that deprived George Floyd of his last breath did so, despite his dying plea for mercy. That knee has been ever present, sitting, positioned ready to deliver its death blow. This is the racial-trigger that is carried by all power relations in white supremacist fuelled political systems.  

That knee is not a move in reaction. That knee is not a self-defense mechanism. That knee does not appear out of disembodied application of policing power, of law and order. That knee is always positioned just a hair’s breadth away from the necks and backs of racialised populations – of black people.

The burning buildings, rage, anger, violence that we now see – these are the hands that push away at the knee.
These are the legs that kick out at the knee.
These are the collective bodies and spirits that hold the knee back.
These are the voices that have been crying out for decades, centuries, ‘please don’t’.  

If that deathly, deadly knee is the thing that goes bump in the long night of racial terror, then this is the bump back.  

What choice is there? For anyone who has felt the fist or the boot or both, of a racist, it’s not possible to debate the action, or engage in rational talk, when the murderous violence is upon you. When that knee applies pressure, the time for debate is long past. When the full force of policing power is felt, there is little one can do, for your life is never in the balance, it is always outweighed by other lives that are valued more highly.

Similarly, for institutional racism, it’s not possible to even identify one’s attacker, let alone rely on legal equality systems to provide justice. That knee is ever present. For the victims of police racism, it takes their lives, and attempts to shatter their families and communities. For people of colour trying to work, live, breathe and simply be, that knee is only ever a hair’s breadth away.

The people under the threat of that knee owe no duty to ‘reflect’ on what comes afterwards, because if, IF, that knee can be pushed away, held at bay for a moment, then life happens. Breathing happens. If enough people help keep that knee at bay, then racist systems can be held at bay.

It may be just for a moment.

But just as with our breath, it only happens one breath at a time. So, we can, collectively, keep that knee at a distance, one moment at a time. Long enough maybe for the knee, its owners, and the body that propels it, to stop.

Alliance?

But who is ‘we’? I can see a massive proliferation of support and ‘alliance’ messages, being advertised and promoted on social media and websites – institutions, groups and bodies that, in the face of one video of one racial murder feel compelled to raise their institutional voices. And what powerful voices they are. The performativity is filled with the warm and cozy afterglow of a well performed lecture, receiving continuous applause and legitimation.

But it also smacks of the very platitudes that have resulted in absolute and total silence at every other death in custody, violent racial injustice, and every act of arrogant, belligerent, overt and covert racial oppression that black and minority ethnic people have had to suffer for generations.

Where were these messages of ‘alliance’ and support then? And now, even more importantly, what does this alliance and support mean? When white academic institutions for example, push out the ‘support’ message, what does that actually mean?

In practice?

Because in practice, people are dying from white racial supremacy fuelled violence. So, what is a group, institution, body, who feels the need to send out these well-intentioned messages, intending on doing, in practice?

Is there a willingness to turn their inquisitive, passive gaze way from angry protestors, away from theoretical abstractions they might suddenly get interested in that fill ‘top’ race´ journals, and start looking for their own complicity? Start peering into their own relations of power with people of colour? Start looking honestly at their hiring and promotion practices? Take a step back and look at their their subtle, almost-missed-it-if-you-blinked aggressions in everyday work places?

And will they listen to their own silence? What does alliance and support mean?

It means being silent at the right time, and being vocal in the right place. It means figuring how what your role in this connected, murderous situation is, and was. And then finding a way to help – help – not take a lead, assume authority, and take charge, but help make it better. And by owning the likelihood – not impossibility but likelihood – that you may never know what the feeling of violent and everyday racism feels like.

By owning this, you leave a space for change. You become a potential ally. But by acting as if your ‘support’ can fix it, you take the change possibilities away.

But that means realising that before a message of support and alliance is pushed out, ensuring it doesn’t sit right on top of that deathly, deadly knee.

That knee comes with a whole body, and that body is white supremacy. That is a weight that is too much to bear and will no longer be borne without consequences.

#BlackLivesMatter #NoJusticeNoPeace #GeorgeFloyd

Reflections on living and freedom

By Lidis Garbovan, PhD student in Sociology.

On 29 August 2017 the small town of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, in the Himalayas was packed with thousands of people from several countries: Tibetans and Indians, Italians, Russians, Americans, British, Spanish, Colombians, as well as guests from Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore.

At 07.30am I joined the long queue to register for the event that all these people were here for: to attend the lectures of the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1989 for his efforts towards peace and non-violence. Continue reading